Slow Thinking Part 1: Blurred Boundaries

During a paper I gave at In the Loop 4, I mentioned a blurring of boundaries: when does a garment start, and when does it end? Musings about Taking time, Woolly Comrade Felicity ‘Felix’ Ford’s Slow Wardrobe project, and having conversations with other friends who make clothes to last, have culminated into my own thoughts about a Slow Wardrobe.

Brioche Sweater and grafitti

My Brioche Sweater: a recently completed garment. Or is it?

Since I started repairing with purpose, I’m slowly but surely drifting away from the idea that once the last loose end has been woven in, a garment is finished. Over time, clothes start to develop signs of wear, of having been washed, of having been used. Inevitably, an edge starts to fray, a seat wears thin, or a hole appears, and the time comes I’ll be getting out my darning needle. By making my mends visible, I continue adding to the garment. A beautiful mend can be worn as a badge of honour, and in my view, augments and alters the garment repaired.

Flanelette Plaid shirt darning by tomofholland

Darning the threadbare yoke seam of a flannelette shirt

A shift of focus from trying to keep things looking new and perfect to favouring the old and imperfect, means I’ve stopped looking at repair as a chore, but as a creative challenge in its own right. Instead of fixing something that is broken, which implies the item was finished, I now continue working on something that wasn’t complete yet. This idea is perhaps easier to embrace where it concerns clothes I made myself, but I now extend it to the clothes I buy. I frequently purchase secondhand clothes, and they already show signs of wear, and the time to repair something usually comes along sooner.

Tom spinning a yarn

Spinning a yarn

Conversely, making my own clothes has made me question at what point a garment starts. When you buy something, you could be led to believe that your garment’s life starts when you’ve handed over your cash. But this, of course, isn’t true. Somebody somewhere has laid out cloth, cut it up, seamed it, pressed it. Most likely different people were involved in different stages and many things are now mechanised.

When making your own clothes, you get to choose the fabric or yarn, the pattern, the buttons, and put it all together into a garment. You could argue that the item starts its life when you clapped your eyes on that beautiful tweed, or when you dreamt up that Christmas jumper and you started looking for the right yarn. Now that I also spin, even if as yet I haven’t spun enough of one yarn to make a whole jumper, my boundary has shifted even further back: it is possible to make a garment-specific fibre, so really, its life starts there. In fact, we can take it back right to the beginning: wool, linen, silk, and cotton are all fibres that theoretically I could grow or farm myself.

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill

Roger from Diamond Fibre Mill spinning a yarn or two

So even if I’m not personally involved in all the process steps from farming to harvesting to processing of fibres, and subsequently turning the resulting cloth or yarn into a garment, I’m aware that all these steps are part of the story. If you want to get an understanding of some of the issues around the fashion industry, then there’s no better way than trying to make something yourself. When you wash your raw fleece, you’ll notice how much water you use. When you spin a yarn, you understand how difficult it can be to get something just right. When you sew a shirt, you get a feel for how complicated sewing can be. Try and imagine any of these processes on an industrial scale, and soon all sorts of questions pop up: how can we grow/farm fibres in huge quantities? What happens with waste water from processing fibres and dyeing it? What happens to by-products and waste from the spinning process? How can somebody sew 50 shirts a day? How are prices of clothing set on the High Street?

These are just a few questions, and answering them is difficult, and fixing things that appear to be a problem is also very complicated. So what can I do about it myself? Talking to people such as Sarah Corbett from the Craftivist Collective, or reading John-Paul Flintoff’s book Sew Your Own, made me realise that there will be things I personally cannot influence, but there are other things I can do something about. I can run workshops, I can volunteer, I can decide what goes into my wardrobe, and I can share my experiences in this blog.

A follow-up post is in the making, in which I want to share with you my thoughts about my Slow Wardrobe: what does it mean to me? Sewing and knitting my own clothes, making things that last, repairing things, and thinking about long-term style, not short-term fashion.

A Little Book of Craftivism

Welcome to the third stop on the blog tour about A Little Book of Craftivism! I’ve been following Sarah Corbett and her Craftivist Collective events for a couple of years now, and I was very excited to hear she was working on A Little Book of Craftivism. The book is now released (you can buy it here,) and I have been invited to take part in a blog tour (other tour stops at the bottom of this blog.)

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Sarah’s Little Book of craftivism provides a wealth of information and ideas for those people who do care about social issues, but don’t feel comfortable running around with a placard and shouting out loud, for whatever reason. In fact, Sarah called herself a burnt-out activist doing just that. She decided to do things differently, and she found other ways to get her voice heard. A Little Book of Craftivism not only shares the journey from a lone Craftivist to a whole Craftivist Collective, but it also shows you how you can join in. And that’s the great thing about it all: you cannot do all of these things on your own, so you can either join an existing project (you can see what’s going on at the Craftivist Collective website,) start your own event as part of one of these projects, or be inspired to highlight an issue that’s important to you and find out how to engage other people.

The first time I got wind of Sarah planning her book, was when she asked around on twitter how one would describe craftivism in 140 characters. I replied with: “@craftivists shows, inspires and facilitates craftsters to unite their individual creative powers to raise awareness of social issues.” As Sarah is someone who inspires me and many other people, I wanted to know who inspires her. Sarah said:

“I’m inspired by many people from political leaders such as Martin Luther King & Ghandi, filmmakers shining a light on injustices but making hopeful films to inspire us all to be the change we wish to see in the world and see that individuals can make a difference. I’m inspired reading the magazine Dumbo Feather which is in depth interviews with inspiring people around the world doing innovative, kind work & by people I meet who see a need and decide that they have the skills & passions to tackle them such as JP Flintoff who wrote ‘How to Change the World’ book for The School of Life series.” [as an aside, I can recommend Flintoff’s book, too!]

After talking to Sarah a few times, and now having read the book I realised that standing at the back and saying: “oh yes, that looks like a really good idea” just isn’t going to cut the mustard. My way of craftivism is often of a very practical nature: like helping out Fran from Skulls and Ponies to take pictures when she handed her “Don’t Blow It” Hanky to Caroline Lucas, MP.

Obviously I jumped at the chance to support Sarah with a Pop-Up Craftivist event at Brighton and Hove Museums, helping people to stitch a thoughtful message on a footprint.

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Sarah Corbett and her Pop-Up Craftivist Kit enter Brighton Museum

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The Pop-Up Craftivist Kit, with inspirational slogan in case the chips are momentarily down

Earlier this year I went to Lisa-Anne Auerbach’s Chicken Stricken workshop at Prick Your Finger (Chicken Strikken is a 21st century  interpretation of a 1970s Danish movement, using subversive knitwear design to highlight social issues and feminism.) There, we talked about putting personal slogans and messages on your clothes, and how in this opinionated world where everybody can and does use social media to raise their voice, many people still feel a great reluctance to wear a jumper with a statement like the ones Craftivists often embroider on hankies, masks and mini-banners. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sarah Corbett without her craftivist belt: so I wanted to know how she felt about wearing a statement as part of her outfit. Her reply:

“I think a lot before I stitch any slogan in my craftivism work to make sure it’s not attacking the reader, it’s not negative and it’s not telling people what to do (which can stop people thinking deeply about the issues). I always try and make the slogans hopeful, clearly links to social justice, positive and provocative so people are interested in thinking more about what it means to them and their role in society. The response has been really positive with people asking me what my belt means, or a badge I’m wearing or my banners hanging up & are often a great tool as a catalyst for a respectful conversation. If my slogans where telling people “the answer” then I would feel reluctant to wear then too because it seems very top down and possibly arrogant which is why I stick to provoking thought in an encouraging way.”

Since reading A Little Book of Craftivism, I think that the craftivism-mindset has managed to permeate more of my crafty pursuits.  I care a lot about sustainable fashion and a Slow Wardrobe. No need to chuck out a favourite, comfortable jumper if it has a hole: you can repair it instead, and wear your darn as a badge of honour! This has always been one of the drivers to run my darning workshops, but I now make sure to emphasise this during my classes. I also stress that I’ve learnt through making my own clothes (knitting and sometimes sewing) that it takes time, skill, and effort to make garments, and that this actually also applies to the clothes you buy in the High Street. I ask my darning class attendees to think about how it is possible that these clothes are so cheap; and to honour the invisible, but skilled person who has stitched it together for you, by making sure they last as long as possible. And another aside: I hope to make it to the next Sew It Forward event this Thursday, where Zoe Robinson from The Good Wardrobe has teamed up with John-Paul Flintoff, to share skills, and to ask you: who made your clothes?

All this to say: I can heartily recommend A Little Book of Craftivism; you can find out what others have to say about it here:

2nd December: Crafty Magazine http://www.craftymag.com/

3rd December: Helen Le Caplain http://mancunianvintage.com/

4th December: Tom Van Deijnen https://tomofholland.com/

5th December: Laura Kim http://www.otesha.org.uk/blog


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